New Release: Discernment

Discernment_promoI have a new story out!

Subscribers to Fallen London — that is to say, Exceptional Friends — can now play Discernment. Look for Salome’s soul, meet a Salon of devils and devilesses concerned with building the very best soul collections. You may also encounter some information on the moral perspective of mushrooms.

One of the things I enjoy about writing for Fallen London is being able to riff on assorted lore, connections, and player history from other stories. Without spoilers, I am especially pleased about how that worked out in this piece.

If you’re looking to get started, seek out the Burglary of a Cartographer’s Estate storylet.

Regency Games: Regency Love, Marrying Mr Darcy, Regency Solitaire, Fitzwilliam Darcy’s Dance Challenge


Regency Love is an iOS game set in a pseudo-Austen town; it is in the same general territory as a dating sim or visual novel, but with a structure that also owes something to roleplaying games.

The core interaction loop is that the player can select a place from the map of Darlington, their town; the place may yield one or more possible activities. The activities can either be quizzes about Regency life (how long should you properly mourn a sister? how much did muslin cost?) or social interaction scenes that are primarily dialogue-driven. From time to time, there’s an opportunity to do another quiz-like activity, a game of hangman in which you’re trying to fill in a missing word from a famous quotation, mostly from Austen. Doing quizzes and hangman gains you motivation points which you can spend to raise your skill in one of six “accomplishments” — drawing, needlework, reading, dancing, riding, music (harp and pianoforte and singing are not distinguished). Some of the social activities depend on you having a certain accomplishment level in a certain area before they will unlock. Other social events depend on what has already happened.

Using a map to pick the next little story you want to participate in also reminded me a bit of StoryNexus, though whether the underlying engine relies on anything like quality-based narrative, I have no idea.

Before the game began I evidently paid NO attention to my governess.

Before the game began I evidently paid NO attention to my governess.

I was never a great enthusiast for the quizzes and stats part of this game. The questions refer to information from Austen that is not provided internally, so you either already know the answers or you have to guess. There aren’t enough hangman sentences and quizzes to last the whole game, either, so you’ll see the same things repeat over and over again before you’re done. Meanwhile, your accomplishments are necessary enough that you can’t ignore this part of the system, but there’s not enough variety to what the stats do to make it an interesting choice which one you raise next. Somewhere between halfway and three quarters of the way through play I had maxed out all my accomplishments and could now afford to ignore the whole quiz-and-hangman ecosystem, which was a relief.

Based on your behavior, the game also tracks character traits, reflecting whether you’re witty, dutiful, etc. It displays what your traits are, but I never worked out exactly what was moving the dials. What I said in conversation must come into it, but I didn’t know which dialogue did what. Nor did I ever figure out how it mattered. Some events were plainly closed to people with less than 12 Needleworking, but I never saw an explicit flag that excluded people who weren’t witty. So the character trait system may have been doing important things, but it was opaque enough that eventually I started to ignore it.

What does that leave? Talking. Lots and lots of talking. I like talking games! This one made some slightly peculiar choices, though.

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Prospero (Bruno Dias); Writing with Raconteur

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Prospero is Bruno Dias’ retelling of “The Masque of the Red Death”, implemented in Undum/Raconteur and published for Sub-Q Magazine.

As one might expect of both the author and the venue, Prospero is a typographically attractive piece of work, rendered in white text with red progression links. Links that merely expand the existing text appear in bold white, instead. The distinction between stretchtext links and movement links might be old in literary hypertext terms — I’m not certain — but it’s not consistent in the Twine and Undum world. I find it very useful to know whether the link I’m clicking is going to tell me a little more information or whether it’s going to move the whole story forward.

Prospero is also a beautifully textured piece at the level of prose. Dias has a gift for the specific detail — seen in Mere Anarchy in the variety of magical tools available to the protagonist, or here in Prospero in the scenery and the protagonist’s possessions.

The original Poe story goes like this: there’s a plague in the land, but the prince Prospero has a lot of money, so he walls himself up with his favorite courtiers and various resources, and they try to keep the plague at bay. (In contrast with the religious community in Vespers, he seems untroubled by the implications of shutting out the rest of the world.) During an elaborate party Prospero throws, a creepy masked figure attends, who turns out to be the embodiment of the plague. Despite their decadence and indifference to the world outside, the whole party dies. It is possibly a story about the inevitability of death, or possibly about the comeuppance of the wealthy classes.

Dias’ version keeps a great deal of that structure, but moves the action to something closer to the modern day, with cars and modern architecture and electric lighting. He casts the player as the Red Death, with the ability to choose the final outcome. This feels like a surprising choice, given that Poe’s version is so much about inevitability. And I think it would have been fatal to the concept of the original story to give Prospero any choice about whether he lived or died. As the Red Death, we can move among different parts of Prospero’s party, meet different party-goers, and decide whether to spare them all, or one or two favored exceptions, or no one.

Two of Dias’ previous projects, Mere Anarchy and Terminator Chaser, deal with resistance against wealth and power. Prospero raises some of the same issues, particularly the idea of the rich who imagine that they can remove themselves from the rules that apply to everyone else. In contrast with Mere Anarchy, it is comparatively merciful; it allows you to grant forgiveness, if you’re so moved. But I found that I didn’t entirely want to. Perhaps my own favorite ending was to spare one woman who seemed not to belong to the wealthy decadence around her: this suggested a universe with some moral discrimination.

If you like Prospero, you might also enjoy Peter Nepstad’s adaptation of stories by Lord Dunsany, or Caleb Wilson’s anachronistic gothic Six Gray Rats Crawl Up the Pillow.


Prospero was built with Raconteur, Dias’ system for creating Undum content. Undum builds beautiful hypertext with elegant typography and link transitions. However, it’s not particularly easy to use out of the box, so Raconteur provides a way to build for it without having to go direct to the javascript; and Dias has released the full source for Prospero as an example case. So in addition to reviewing Prospero, I’d like to take a moment to look at the experience of writing with Raconteur here.

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Fast-Paced Parser Games

Most parser games tend to keep a pretty stately pace, allowing the player to move around and explore, and only ratcheting the plot forward in response to player actions. There are exceptions, though: a handful of pieces describe a world already and continuously in motion, or cut rapidly from one scene to another with just a few moves in each — presenting an experience paced more like a film than like Adventure.

Quite a few of these are by J. Robinson Wheeler, which is unsurprising given that that style is a bit of a specialty of his (perhaps reflecting the fact that he’s also a filmmaker and takes a cinematic approach to his IF stories).

moonbaseMoonbase Indigo, J. Robinson Wheeler. Inspired by Moore-era Bond, with a lot of the tropes you might expect in that context.

Centipede, J. Robinson Wheeler. A Starship-Troopers-esque reinterpretation of the classic arcade game.

The Tale of the Kissing Bandit, J. Robinson Wheeler. Playful, lightly romantic.

Being Andrew Plotkin, J. Robinson Wheeler. If Being John Malkovich where about zarf, instead. There are a fair number of community and classic IF in-jokes in this one, but also some entertaining riffs on different narrative styles.

Everybody Dies, Jim Munroe. Touches of both realism and mysticism, together with some excellent illustration.

Guilded Youth, Jim Munroe. Told through a series of vignettes that take place both on and off-line.

Dial C for Cupcakes, Ryan Veeder. There are some puzzles in this one, but also a fair amount of scene progression. As is typical for Veeder’s games, the puzzles are not tremendously hard.

Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies, Øyvind Thorsby. The conceit of this game is that you’re meant to play once and never undo. If you commit to an action, you’re stuck with it.

Andromeda Dreaming, Joey Jones. Most of the games set in Marco Innocenti’s shared Andromeda world are fairly puzzle-based, but this one focuses more on an unfolding story.

If this sort of thing interests you, see also: IFDB poll for Autonomic Narration (where you can also add your own suggestions).

Games about Community: Ohmygod Are You Alright? (Anna Anthropy), Hana Feels (Gavin Inglis), Tusks (Mitch Alexander)

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.02.00 PMOhmygod Are You Alright? is a flash-augmented Twine piece by Anna Anthropy about the experience of being hit by a car and the recovery process afterward. The details of physical pain and the dehumanization of the hospital are unpleasant enough, though I suppose they could have been even worse.

But the game’s most lasting and unresolved pain pertains to how Anna feels about her community: lonely, cut off from support, no longer enjoying the energy and communal celebration of her earlier time with Twine. She touches on this in the ruleset for A Wish for Something Better, but Ohmygod goes into it more deeply. She mentions feeling surprised by the forlorn hope that being hit by a car will make people pay attention again. There’s wistfulness, too, about having been at the forefront of a movement that now contains a lot of other practitioners.

If games are not great at NPCs and individual relationships, they’re often downright terrible on communal responsibility and community formation, but Ohmygod made me think about two other games I’ve played recently that touch on the function of community in our lives.

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Secret Agent Cinder (Emily Ryan)

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Secret Agent Cinder is a retelling of the Cinderella story, except not: though you dress up and dance with fancy people, it’s really about espionage and sneaking about at Versailles shortly before the French Revolution.

It belongs to that small but growing category of Twine games — with Hallowmoor, Krypteia, and This Book is a Dungeon — that feature a world model and a map you can get to know. There are some light puzzles, and you can reach a sudden bad ending, though the game will then automatically restore you to the last reasonable checkpoint to replay. At the end, you get a rating for your stealthiness, revolutionary violence, and zeal. The result is short, polished, accessible, and quite a lot of fun.

Besides having a map, Secret Agent Cinder uses illustration as a primary channel for storytelling: the pictures aren’t just a gloss on the text, but give key information about, say, the locations of guards. If you don’t pay attention to them, you’re likely to get caught. Many of the jokes are embedded in the imagery as well; it plays more like an interactive web comic than most things I can think of.

Mildly spoilery discussion of the humor follows the break.

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